In 1922 Joseph Rosefield became, likely without knowing it, a very important figure in a Southern economic recovery as well as in the lives of every American boy and girl. It was that year he discovered a way to make peanut butter marketable. Peanuts are exclusively a Southern crop, and over half of the South’s peanuts are grown for the worldwide peanut butter trade.
Peanut butter, or something like it, had been around for at least a couple of decades, developed in the 1890’s by a St. Louis physician named Kellogg (yes, the corn-flakes man) as a protein-based food for toothless elderly patients. But the oil easily separated, making a tough, thick paste that was hard to work with and hard to spread. Additionally, the “butter” had to be used quickly before going rancid. Not the stuff commercial dreams are made of.
Rosefield solved all of these problems through a homogenization process that included vegetable shortening and sugar, and peanut butter became the smooth, spreadable, goes-great-with-jelly sandwich-protein every American kid has come to love and enjoy. Having first sold the process to a company later known as Peter Pan, in 1933 Rosefield started the Skippy brand peanut butter line, which continues to this day one of the most successful brands in America and is the number-one selling peanut butter in China.
The name Skippy is easily recognizable today because of its association with the popular peanut butter, but in the 1930’s when Rosefield chose the name for his product, it was known in every household for another reason: “Skippy” was the name of the most famous comic strip character in America.
Skippy Skinner’s creator was Percy Crosby, who wrote for the New Yorker magazine and was pals with the likes of playwright Jerome Kern and actor John Barrymore. The Skippy comic strip revolutionized the trade, and Crosby’s innovative work became the forerunning inspiration for later greats like Charles Shultz’s Peanuts. Movies were even made for the character—everyone knew and loved “Skippy.”
Crosby brought Rosefield to court for the name-grab, which resulted in the peanut butter company’s losing the trademark rights to the name “Skippy.” That didn’t slow down Rosefield. The peanut butter only increased in popularity, and by the end of World War II, it was an American staple. In 1948, the comic-strip fame having dissipated, the trademark war was decided this time in favor of Rosefield, and, despite continuing litigation by Crosby’s descendants, the popular spread has gotten to have a little ® after its name ever since.
In 2014 the giant Texas-based corporation Hormel Foods acquired Skippy for $700 million, keeping its American production operations in Little Rock, Arkansas (another plant is located in Weifang, China). Owned by a Southern company, produced predominantly in the South, and made with Southern-grown peanuts, Skippy peanut butter, which pulls in about $370 million in sales each year, is a big winner for a Southern economy. Add to that the balance of the $2-billion peanut-butter business, and the South, along with peanut-butter lovers everywhere, owes Mr. Rosefield a hearty handshake full of gratitude for the smooth, sugary, peanut-y, protein-packed sandwich spread that delights tongues and fills happy little bellies worldwide.
2 tablespoons peanut butter2 slices bread
1 banana (or fruit of choice) sliced thinly
1 pat butter
2 tablespoons jelly (optional)
Heat pan or griddle on medium heat. Spread peanut butter on one side of each slice of bread. If using jelly, be sure to mix the peanut butter and jelly together before spreading the combination on the bread. Butter the outside of each slice of bread.Place fruit in a single layer on top of peanut butter on one slice of bred. Place second slice of bread, peanut butter side down, on top of fruit. The peanut butter should always be on the inside of the sandwich. Press slices firmly together. Place assembled sandwich on ungreased pan or griddle, and fry until both sides are golden brown; about 2 minutes per side.
(Courtesy of Southern Peanut Growers at peanutbutterlovers.com)